Everybody is experiencing the effects of rising oil prices. Over the last ten years, we have watched the price of gasoline skyrocket from around one dollar per gallon to the current four dollars per gallon. This has caused a lobby to emerge in favor of tapping oil supplies located in protected nature reserves in the Alaskan wilderness. Many in this camp argue that the environmental impact of drilling has been exaggerated. Others claim that the reduced cost of gas and its effect on the economy are worth the permanent damage to the ecosystem of the drilling sites.
But just how valid are these arguments? While complete, unbiased, and fact based research on either side is almost impossible to find, the undeniable facts that we currently do have suggest that long-term drilling projects will devastate the local environment.
Let’s have a look at three of the most relevant reasons to oppose these drills.
The Obvious: Oil Spills
An oil platform located miles off of the coast. It was accessible only by boat or helicopter, and impossible to reach in bad weather. There was nobody around to complain about the rig being an eye sore. And yet, when the Deepwater Horizon exploded in 2010, millions of dollars worth of damage were done.
For over three months, the Deepwater Horizon site spilled thousands and thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The clean up from that mess has cost millions of dollars and is still continuing today, but the damage to the Gulf ecosystem is incalculable. On the other side of the continent, drilling at Purdhoe Bay, Alaska continues. This drilling site is subject to over four hundred oil spills per year. Although these spills are much, much smaller, they still have a huge impact on the environment.
Proposed plans to expand drilling into a nearby wilderness reserve would wreak havoc on local wildlife populations. This area is a breeding ground, for example, to approximately 130,000 caribou. The gravel roads, heavy traffic, and increased noise level have the potential to seriously affect mating habits and thin the population further. Already stressed populations of polar bears are also at risk of being pushed to the brink of extinction.
You’re Messing With People
It’s just a few bears and some deer looking things. Who cares? The local native populations who have relied on these areas as hunting grounds for years. That’s who.
Gwich’in indians rely on the same polar bears and caribou that are threatened by expanded drilling as sources of food and warm clothing. By decimating already dangerously small populations, the effect on the local ecosystem isn’t the only thing threatened. Drilling now becomes an active hindrance to the daily lives of other human beings, most of whom do not have the resources available to stand up to big oil companies.
This all sounds scary, doesn’t it? But of course, gas prices are still sky high. Wouldn’t the effect of drilling on gas prices be worth the risk? Well, consider this:
Drilling Won’t Bring Down Gas Prices
That’s correct. Worldwide, approximately ninety million barrels of oil are produced per day. The United States contributes to less than nine percent of that, making us a very small fraction of the big picture.
Because oil prices are set on the global market, even if we were to bolster our output by the roughly three percent estimated if all of the Alaskan oil reserves were tapped, the effect that output would have on the world market just won’t get us back down to two dollars per gallon.
Do the risks still outweigh the benefits?
Rob Underwood is an environmental scientist and wildlife enthusiast. He recently lent his experience and expertise in the How Do I become an Environmental Scientist? guide at BecomeCareer.com.